Make Mine Freedom
To most working people, postwar "normalcy" meant a final farewell to Depression-induced privation, access to consumer goods unavailable during the war years, and a redistribution of the economic pie through the newly powerful labor movement. To business, however, the end of hostilities promised freedom from New Deal liberalism. Corporations sought an end to planning and government influence, to communist, socialist and labor movements, and above all, shrinkage of the public sector, swollen in sixteen years of economic depression and war. Both sides characterized their points of view as patriotic and their opponents as un-American.
Business fought for influence through organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. Their intentions were presented as lofty and neutral: to educate Americans about our economic system and its benefits. Launching a giant propaganda offensive, these organizations pumped out press releases, published books, organized public and private meetings, bought advertising (for examples, see "The Pursuit of Profit" and "Freedom of Choice" supplements on this disc) and produced motion pictures.
One institution most anxious to spread the news about capitalism was the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, founded by the former chairman of General Motors. The Sloan Foundation funded a small institution (the pro-free enterprise, staunchly anti-Communist Harding College in Searcy, Arkansas, which hired John Sutherland Productions, Inc. as producer) to produce a series of nine "short cartoon films, in color, which would portray simple economic truths about the American system of production and distribution in an interesting and entertaining manner." A series of grants totaling $597,870 was made to Harding College, $150,000 of this contributed by the Maurice and Laura Falk Foundation of Pittsburgh. The films were intended both for showing in theaters, schools, at community group meetings and in workplaces, often at lunchtime screenings in factories. Ironically, this effort was made feasible by a Federal government initiative: the distribution of war surplus 16mm projectors to educational and nonprofit organizations.
There was nothing new about the idea of reaching working people on the job. As an idea, "luncheon movies" date back to the 'teens, when John Patterson of National Cash Register in Dayton, Ohio pursued what were then advanced media forms to reach NCR employees with messages of inspiration, training and control. During the Depression, companies undergoing union organizing campaigns took every opportunity to reach their workers with anti-union messages, morning, noon and night. As Business Screen (Vol. 10, No. 1, 1949) said, "During the war, 62% of large U.S. employers made use of incentive or employee attitude motion pictures. Today, that figure has dropped to 35%. Isn't it reasonable to believe that a mass return to employee film programs would help pave the way for smoother labor-management relations? And at 50c a year per employee, or even two or three dollars, wouldn't it be cheaper than a strike ending in a 12-1/2c an hour pay raise?" (See "Movie Day in Your Plant" in the Archive section on this disc.)
But Sloan's project was about more than smoother labor-management relations. Although the Harding College films purported to be relaxed, humorous explanations of how America's economy works, they sought both to discredit anti-capitalist ideas and explain why our system worked better than any conceivable alternative. Although the apparent collapse of socialism around the world in the late 1980s may make these films seem prophetic today, such ideas weren't taken for granted in the postwar climate.
Make Mine Freedom links patriotism with free enterprise and freedom with prosperity. "Working together to produce an ever-greater abundance of material and spiritual values for all. That is the secret of American prosperity." "Working together," of course, is a dishonest concept when used to describe communities whose interests differ.
Unlike such films as Greyhound's upfront patriotic lump-in-the-throater Freedom Highway (on The Uncharted Landscape disc), Make Mine Freedom employs a "stealth" strategy. Self-deprecating humor prevails, perhaps because the films were made to play before distracted and highly skeptical audiences, and the targets of this humor include our consumer culture and the dubious innovations it creates.
Specific ideologies, whether Communism, socialism, fascism or capitalism, aren't mentioned. Instead, "Isms" and "imported doubletalk" are mentioned dismissively. "Ism will cure any ailment of the body politic," claims "Dr. Utopia," just like an old-time snake oil salesman. "Ism" offers something to workers, manufacturers and politicians, and to farmers, well, "Ism even makes the weather perfect every day."
The salesman asks his audience to make this pledge: "I hereby turn over to Ism, Incorporated, everything I have, including my freedom, and the freedom of my children, and my children's children, in return for which said Ism promises to take care of me forever." This doesn't scare them. So onlooker "John Q. Public" urges them to get better acquainted with the enemy.
"Before signing up, you boys ought to try a little taste of Dr. Ism's formula to see what you'd get in exchange for your 'freedom.' Go ahead! Try it." They drink and are plunged into a totalitarian dream. Clamped inside the State's iron fist, the worker cannot strike and is no longer protected by his union. The manufacturer is now irrelevant. "No more private property. No more you!" the State says to manufacturer, kicking him out onto the street. The farmer is controlled through a central production plan and turned into an industrialized employee of the state. One courageous politician speaks up for freedom, but is quickly brainwashed, becoming "State Propaganda speaker 3120," a phonograph where his head should be, saying "Everything is fine!" over and over again.
The Sloan Foundation lets John Q. Public have the last word. "When anybody preaches disunity," Mr. Public says, "tries to pit one of us against the other through class warfare, race hatred, or religious intolerance, you know that person seeks to rob us of our freedom and destroy our very lives. And we know what to do about it!" In a hail of his tonic bottles, Dr. Utopia is chased away and flees towards a glowing city. Apparently John Q. Public didn't believe in the First Amendment.
Business Screen, the organ of the sponsored film industry, liked these films but warned employers to pull their punches. “...Many companies have initiated regular programs of noon-hour and off-shift film showings....This is by no means an invitation to propagandize. These voluntary employee audiences are fair-minded Americans whose interest and enthusiasm places a direct responsibility upon the program planner. The fact that movies have a favorable psychological effect in relieving boredom and strain is rewarding in itself. If a good film program can inculcate ambition and greater productivity to earn a deserving higher wage, that is certainly the desirable objective. Films are no substitute for a raise.” (Business Screen, April 1949).
But Roger Spottiswoode was much less favorable. In his review (included on this disc) he criticized Make Mine Freedom for its "hatred of foreigners, a contempt for their way of life, and an attempt to bigotry and intolerance at home." "The whole unpleasant dish," he stated, "is served up with a crude but appealing humor, calculated to lull an audience into a receptive frame of mind."
Labor fought business's media offensive through whatever means it could mobilize: its own press, radio programs, publications and union and community meetings. Unions produced a number of films that challenged corporate points of view, but these were not shown in theaters and on TV as the Harding College pictures were. Backed by business's economic clout, corporate messages were louder and successfully manipulated public opinion away from liberal and labor-oriented ideas and towards perspectives more harmonious with business.
Produced by John Sutherland Productions (Hollywood) for Harding College (Searcy, Arkansas). Registered for copyright April 6, 1948. Distributed theatrically by Loew's, Incorporated (MGM) and nontheatrically by Harding College and Modern Talking Picture Service. 10 min., 16mm, Technicolor. Music composition and arrangement: Scott Bradley, Paul J. Smith. Winner of a 1949 Freedoms Foundation Award and an "Oscar" at the Cleveland Film Festival (Free Enterprise Division), 1950. "This is one of a series of films produced by the Extension Department of Harding College to create a deeper understanding of what has made America the finest place in the world to live."
Subject: Want some ISM?
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